Mysteries of the Deep Sea

Category: General Article

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Monday, December 5, 2017

Summary: Dr. Heather Bracken-Grissom and Kris Clark take a closer look at some unusual deep-sea animals and the longstanding mysteries that surround them.

Mystery of the Monster Baby

By Dr. Heather Bracken-Grissom

Take a look at this baby animal shown in the photo below. Do you know what it is? If not, you’re not alone. This is because some baby sea creatures look totally different from their adult forms.

So let me share the story about this weird looking animal known as Cerataspis monstrosa, a Latin term which translates to mean “monster larvae.”

This baby was discovered in the stomach of a mahi mahi (or dolphinfish) around 200 years ago. When the scientist found this weird looking creature, they mistakenly took it for a sea monster.

For 200 years, Cerataspis monstrosa was a “monster” mystery. However, just a few years ago I came across this baby while on a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. I was able to look at its DNA to help me identify it. Just as every person has a distinct fingerprint, every animal has distinct DNA. We look at the order of the DNA to determine the animal. This method of identifcation is called DNA barcoding.

DNA barcoding helps identify these babies that look very different from their adult forms. After sequencing the DNA, I was able to identify the baby as a deep-sea red shrimp that lives in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s scientifc name is Plesiopenaeus armatus.

Using this DNA barcoding technique, we were able to match the baby with the adult after 200 years! This was a very exciting discovery for us and shows how genetics and shrimp are super cool!

It’s Not Odd, It’s a Heteropod

by Kris Clark

Hello! I work in the lab where I use microscopes to look very closely at a very special group of small animals brought back from sea by our scientists.

Have you ever seen a snail or slug out in your yard or garden? These terrestrial snails have cousins that live in the sea. A Heteropod is the type of marine snail which I study. These marine gastropods (What is a gastropod?) are little floating or swimming animals found all over the world. They are kind of like little globs of snot looking for other snot-like creatures to eat!

Heteropods come in several shapes and sizes (see the gallery in the righthand sidebar for examples). Some have very thin shells that cover their whole body. Some are just a tiny part of their anatomy called the visceral mass (kind of like your stomach and intestines).

There are only a few scientists in the world and through history who have studied heteropods. We have identified and classified these cool animals into three main groups: 1) Atlantidae; 2) Carinariidae; and 3) Pterotracheidae. We divide the animals in to groups to helps us learn more about them and understand them.

What do I do? When the DEEPEND Team brings up Heteropods in the MOCNESS, I record the name of the animals, where it was found, and how deep. I also measure the size of their eyes and take a sample of their tissue to look at their DNA. I want to know what these animals do all day and all night long. How do they spend their time? Are their eyes are smaller or bigger if they live deeper in the ocean. Of course, the DNA information will tell us a lot more about how these special animals.

We believe that heteropods are an important part of the ocean food web. We think that heteropods are an important source of food and they feed many animals. But we want to learn more about who eats heteropods and what heteropods eat.

I love to look at all the different kinds of heteropods. I think they are very fascinating and even quite cute! Why would anyone want to study such an unknown group of marine animals? That’s the answer! There is so much to learn about heteropods. Since scientists know little about this group of marine snails, I have the opportunity to learn things no one has figured out before or yet discovered.



A Cooperative Program

Creep Into the DEEPEND is a WhaleTimes, Inc. Virtual Research Mission, in cooperation with the DEEPEND Consortium and the Oceanscape Network. For more information visit whaletimes.org

About the Dates

The dates shown on the Creep into the DEEPEND blogs may not represent the original cruise dates for this expedition. Our online postings are often intentionally delayed to more convenient dates when students and teachers can participate in these adventures. Thank you.